Monday, 28 May 2018

David Bowie - Pin Ups (1973)

With your long blonde hair, I couldn't sleep last night....

  

Released on 19 October 1973

Recorded at Chateau D'Herouville, France

Running time 40:30

In late 1973, when this album came out, many of us, bathing in the glorious light of Hunky/Ziggy/Aladdin were, to be honest, a bit bemused by this seemingly throwaway collection of covers of (comparatively) obscure sixties rhythm and blues tracks. We made out we loved it, but we didn’t really. However, as time progressed, I personally grew to love this 30 minute slice of seventies nostalgia for the sixties. It seemed to be de rigeur to put out a retrospective covers album as Bryan Ferry released These Foolish Things at the same time. Bowie went back to the British r'n'b boom of 1964-67 to source his material. Some of it was well-known, but certainly not all of it. 

These were the rear cover hand-written notes supplied by Bowie -

These songs are among my favourites from the '64–67' period of London.  Most of the groups were playing the Ricky-Tick (was it a 'y' or an 'i'?) -Scene club circuit (Marquee, eel pie island la-la).  Some are still with us - Pretty Things, Them, Yardbirds, Syd's Pink Floyd, Mojos, Who, Easybeats, Merseys, The Kinks.  Love-on ya! Bowie.

The album was hurriedly put out due to contractual obligations to Mick Ronson and Trevor Bolder, the remaining Spiders From Mars who Bowie had legendarily dumped on stage at Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973, I believe. For all that, Ronson still shines brightly throughout. Aynsley Dunbar’s drumming isn’t half bad either. Indeed, it is one of the standout points of the album. The music is played with a vibrancy and enthusiasm that certainly doesn't suggest going through the motions. It all sounds great and is an enjoyable forty minutes and also very nostalgic for me. 

Stylistically, Bowie's hair is still "Ziggy", but he is now be-suited in a baggy-ish double breasted number that pointed towards the Young Americans/David Live clobber. Two of the images on the rear cover were also still very "Ziggy". The front cover, of course, showed a deathly pale Bowie alongside a suntanned "Twig The Wonderkid", Twiggy (sixties model Lesley Hornby). 

TRACK LISTING (original artists shown)

1. Rosalyn (by The Pretty Things)

2. Here Comes The Night (by Them)
3. I Wish You Would (by The Yardbirds
4. See Emily Play (by Pink Floyd)
5. Everything's Alright (by The Mojos)
6. I Can't Explain (by The Who)
7. Friday On My Mind (by The Easybeats)
8. Sorrow (by The Merseys)
9. Don't Bring Me Down (by The Pretty Things)
10. Shapes Of Things (by The Yardbirds)
11. Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere (by The Who)
12. Where Have All The Good Times Gone (by The Kinks)  

In comparison with original Bowie songs, there is not a huge amount one can say about these short, enjoyable cover versions, but here we go.

Rosalyn was a frantic, fast-paced almost punky opener, featuring some riffy scratchy guitar and Aynsley Dunbar’s drums pounding away as they do impressively throughout the album. There was a real enthusiasm to the rendition that makes it very enjoyable. It was originally recorded by The Pretty Things. The were impressed with Bowie’s cover, feeling it stayed true to the original, which it did.

Bowie’s saxophone introduces Them/Van Morrison’s pop/blues of Here Comes The Night. Trevor Bolder’s bass is superb on here as are the drums, once again. Bowie’s vocal has a sort of Drive In Saturday tone to it. His saxophone solo is excellent too. I have always really liked this one, it was one of the songs that I actually knew already back in 1973. The whole rendition has a sort of soul/rock feel to it.

I Wish You Would was originally done by The Yardbirds, this is a stonking rocker of a number with Bowie on blues harmonica and Dunbar giving us a wonderful round of drums. The quirky Mick Ronson guitar riff and its interplay with the keyboard riff are infectious, you find yourself singing the riff more than you do the lyrics.


Pink Floyd’s See Emily Play is given a really solid, muscular and bassy sound. It rocks superbly and the sonorous backing vocals give it a sort of “asylum” sounding feel. This was a song that was tailor-made for Bowie. Once again, the bass is big, rumbling and addictive. Mike Garson’s piano is great too, he even “samples” a bit of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” near the end, as Dunbar goes all Keith Moon. I love the sound on this. It is definitely a high point on the album.

Everything’s Alright is a killer rocker that I loved back in 1973 and still do. It was a song by The Mojos and Bowie rocks it up no end with an appealing rock ebullience. There is an energy to this performance that is thoroughly intoxicating. I find it impossible not to enjoy the sheer vitality of this rendition.

An interesting bit of trivia is that Aynsley Dunbar played with The Mojos in the mid sixties, but after they had recorded this. He will have known the song, though, so no wonder he does it so well.

On I Can’t Explain Pete Townshend’s guitar is replaced by Bowie’s parping sax on this slowed-down, bluesy cover of The Who’s song. I have always liked it, although I have to say I much prefer the original. Friday On My Mind was first done by Australian group The Easybeats and it is a lively number that was full of punky attitude. Is was another that suited Bowie so well. Bowie contributes an echoey, sonorous vocal that is most evocative.

Sorrow was the big hit single from the album and a great track it is too. Bowie improves The Merseys’ original no end (one of the ones on the album that clearly out-does the original). The violin backing is sumptuous as are the harmonious backing vocals and, of course, Bowie’s excellent saxophone solo. The video clip below features "supermodel" of the time Amanda Lear (who also featured on the cover of Roxy Music's 1973 For Your Pleasure album).

This was the song we all liked on the album at the time, probably due to its exposure as a single. The single, incidentally, was 'b' sided by a cover of Jacques Brel's Amsterdam, dating from the Ziggy Stardust sessions.


Don't Bring Me Down was the second Pretty Things song to be covered is this copper-bottomed piece of sixties blues rock. Bowie and the band do a great version with thumping drums and that blues harmonica again. It has that blues rock feel that was encapsulated on The Jean Genie. It is probably the most bluesy number on the album, exemplifying the British r'n'b boom of the mid-sixties perfectly. Shapes Of Things was another Yardbirds song, this psychedelic rock number again suited Bowie and his musicians. Ronson’s mid-song guitar is outstanding as it links with the drums and bass marvellously. It is another example of just how energetically and enthusiastically these songs were being performed.

There is a vague futuristic feeling to this song that would have appealed to Bowie, but of course he had already explored those themes more than adequately in the intervening years between this song's origins and 1973.


On Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere the sheer youthful attack of The Who’s original is not lost here. The trademark instrumental part is reproduced really well, a bit spacey, but with Dunbar keeping up with the great Keith Moon admirably, Ronson doing the Townshend interjections and Bowie adding blues harmonica most convincingly. It is absolutely brimming over with rock power, just as a Who song should.

For Where Have All The Good Times Gone The Kinks’ song is given a riffy, powerful makeover. Ronson’s guitar chugs solidly in and out behind Bowie’s mannered vocal. The casual cynicism of the song suited Bowie and was a throwback to some of the material he recorded in the 1966-68 period.

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All in all, it is still an enjoyable listen every now and again. An interesting thing to do, also, is make a playlist of the originals. Does Bowie come off best? Debatable. Probably just, because of the better sound quality.

Photo by Mick Rock.

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There were also two tracks that have traditionally been thought to have possibly been part of the sessions for this album but actually were not. They are worthy of discussion, anyway :-

Growin' Up is an odd one. Thought to be a reject from the Pin Ups sessions, it was actually recorded in November 1973, a month after that album's release. It is a cover of a song from Bruce Springsteen's debut album from 1973, Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey. As a Springsteen aficionado as well as a Bowie one, I find it strange hearing Bowie doing Bruce. Listened to objectively, however, he does a pretty good job and if you listen to the vocal you can hear the first strains of that high-pitched soulful voice that he would utilise on the following year's Diamond Dogs and subsequently on Young Americans. In that respect it was a bit of a landmark in Bowie's development as a vocalist.


It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City was another Springsteen cover that nobody categorically knows from whence it came. It is believed to hail from the late 1973 Diamond Dogs sessions that produced Growin' Up. For many years it was thought to come from the Young Americans sessions but the backing sounds nothing like that band and indeed members of that group have no memory of having played it. It is also far too rough-edged and rocky for the 1975 soul-influenced material. Whatever its source, though, it is a credible cover of a good song. Bowie again does it justice.

The Man Who Sold The World/Watch That Man (Lulu recordings) - two other interesting rarities are Lulu's two Bowie covers that were recorded originally during the 1973 Pin Ups sessions and finished off by Bowie at the time of the Diamond Dogs sessions in 1974, featuring Bowie on saxophone, Mick Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, Mike Garson on piano and Aynsley Dunbar on drums - basically the Pin Ups band. The Man Who Sold The World actually sounds really good and duly gave Lulu a top ten hit. Watch That Man, however, doesn't quite work for me, sounding somewhat clumsy, as if Lulu is a bit perplexed by the lyrics. Bowie's backing vocals at the end are jazzily quirky but a bit bizarre.

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Regarding the various remasters around - the EMI/RYKO has the bonus tracks, Springsteen’s Growin’ Up and Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam but it has a lo-fi, muffled sound, in my opinion.The 1999 remaster is clear, sharp and loud.

The 2015 is probably the most nuanced, rounded remaster. The harsh edges of the 1999 master have given way to a slighter quieter, subtler remaster.

B

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